By IAN WILSON
Alberta’s baseball community is mourning the loss of one of the sport’s best umpires.
Mitch Ball – a beloved family man and a highly-respected ump in the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) – passed away Saturday morning at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, due to COVID-19 complications.
“Mitch will be sorely missed by the WCBL as one of our elite umpires, as well as a true friend to anyone who got to know him. The Lethbridge baseball community lost the rock of their umpiring program,” said WCBL President Kevin Kvame.
“He was always there to provide mentor ship and education to new umpires, both adults and youth.”
Jon Oko, the Umpire in Chief for the WCBL and the president of Baseball Alberta, called the loss devastating.
“Mitch was one of our most experienced umpires and a guy who was called upon for every big game. No matter the situation or the distance he may have to travel from his home, Mitch would always accept the assignment. The WCBL has lost a friend and an umpiring legend,” said Oko.
“Mitch not only cared about furthering his umpire career, he also cared about mentoring other umpires and helping them reach their maximum potential. Our umpiring crew in Lethbridge and southern Alberta has become better and better over the years, and a lot of this had to do with Mitch and his ability to teach and provide advice and guidance to our less experienced members.”
Added Oko: “I had the opportunity to umpire with Mitch on numerous occasions, both in the WCBL and at various provincial, national and international events and championships. Mitch was an exceptional umpire, but more importantly, Mitch was an even better person. On behalf of the WCBL umpire crew, our thoughts and prayers are with Jana, their 6 children and all of Mitch’s family and close friends.”
Mitch umpired seven Baseball Canada championships, was the supervisor at another three Baseball Canada championships, and he represented Canada at the 2008 International Baseball Federation (IBAF) World Junior Championship in Edmonton, as well as the 2009 IBAF World Cup in Europe. In addition, he umpired at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, and the Tournament 12 in 2016.
He also served the WCBL for two decades and was given the Lethbridge Sport Council Achievement Award (LSCAA) for officiating excellence in 2016.
“This is extremely sad news,” said Jason Thomasen, president of the Brooks Bombers.
“Mitch was, in our opinion, the best the WCBL has ever had and was the gold standard for umpires. He was a gentle giant and will be sorely missed on and off the baseball field. May he rest in peace. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
One of his most treasured assignments was being selected for the 2002 Little League World Series, where he worked behind the plate for the championship game.
“The highlight of my career most definitely has to be the 2002 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. What a wonderful experience. You cannot fully grasp what it’s like at that event until you take it in yourself. Whether it’s as a fan, a parent, a player or coach, or as an umpire. It’s unbelievable. If you ever get the chance to go and take part in that tournament, don’t hesitate. Just do it! You will not regret it,” said Ball of the experience during a 2017 interview.
Little League International President/CEO Steve Keener called the 47-year-old a special member of the baseball community.
“All of us at Little League International in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and the Little League World Series are extremely saddened by Mitch’s passing,” said Keener.
“He was first and foremost a husband and father, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family and many friends. It’s a real gut punch to lose someone so young to this hideous pandemic, especially someone who has given so much to the Little League program.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to support Mitch’s wife, Jana, and their six children.